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Corruption Law Moves to Assembly for Debate

The National Assembly will begin debate next week on an anti-corruption law that was 15 years in the making, with opposition lawmakers and rights groups pointing to weaknesses they say must be addressed.

The National Assembly will convene March 10 to debate the law, which moved from the Council of Ministers Feb 24.

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, of the Sam Rainsy Party, said the upcoming date for debate was too soon to allow proper study of the draft.

Donors have pushed for the passage of anti-corruption legislation for years, with the US claiming Cambodia loses $500 million per year to such practices. The announcement of the draft comes following the training of government officials by the US last month.

“Corruption is an obstacle of national economic development, the strengthening of the rule of law, democracy, social stability and poverty,” Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote in a note to the National Assembly accompanying the draft law. “Fighting against corruption is part of government reform for good governance, to strengthen the rule of law and sustainable economic development and poverty reduction.”

The draft law has 57 articles, covering all forms of corruption, for government offices, businesses and non-governmental agencies. It creates an independent Anti-Corruption Council and an anti-corruption unit under the Council of Ministers.

The 11-seat Anti-Corruption Council will consist of political appointees chosen one each by the king, Senate and National Assembly and eight by different executive offices. The president of the council will hold the rank of deputy prime minister. It is mainly an oversight body.

The Council of Ministers’ anti-corruption unit will be led by a senior minister and will investigate corruption allegations and research corruption offenses in ministries, public institutions, government offices and the private sector, according to the draft. The unit will also be in charge of the government’s strategy to fight corruption and will receive complaints.

The draft law requires all government officials to disclose their assets and debts to the unit, including the Senate, National Assembly, the prime minister, military personnel and police. It also requires “the leadership” of non-governmental organizations to disclose their assets. The disclosures are sealed to the public but accessible by the anti-corruption unit “as necessary.”

The draft empowers the court to seize as state property interests and assets of those found guilty of corruption. Maximum jail time on corruption charges would be 15 years.

The draft law has created worries among the opposition and rights groups, who say the Council should not be chosen by political appointment but should include unbiased members.

“We want the Council to comprise independent, neutral, capable and well-known persons to work to fight against corruption,” said Thun Saray, head of the rights group Adhoc.

“This law will be used to pressure and suppress opposition businessmen in the private sector,” Son Chhay said.